My Scale Model of the Sears Tower (With Pictures!)

searstower

Ever since I went up the Sears Tower two summers ago, I’ve been fascinated by the architectural design of the thing. It’s built with what is called a bundled-tube structure, and consequently it usually appears asymmetrical when you look at it from the side. But it’s built in a series of phases that are all perfectly symmetrical, except for the very top and narrowest phase (which, I learned on the Wikipedia page, causes it to lean 10 cm from vertical).

So ever since we got Charlie some Duplo Lego blocks for his birthday, I’ve often tried to hurriedly make a model of the Sears Tower before he can knock it over or start adding blocks that made it look like abstract art. But it never looked quite right, and I wasn’t sure why. It bothered me more and more; I would even think about it lying in bed at night. How did all those bundled tubes fit together? How many were there? Which ones went how high? Finally I’d had enough and resolved one afternoon to do it right. A quick Google search quickly turned up this extremely helpful schematic.

bundled_tube_design

As you can see from the A-A, B-B, C-C, and D-D grids down the left-hand side, it turns out to be somewhat simple to build with Duplo Lego building blocks, each of the nine squares being composed of one two-by-two Duplo block. But then I was sure we wouldn’t have enough blocks to finish a three-dimensional scale model, so after supper Jess and I took Charlie for a surprise visit to Toys R Us to buy “him” some new Legos. Then we got home and put Charlie to bed so I could commence playing with his toys for the rest of the evening.

I decided to build each phase with a different color, which solved the problem of not having enough of one color to make it look uniform, and it highlighted the four phases, making it easier to see how the tower is actually built. So what follows is a stage-by-stage pictorial, with my comments along the way.

Phase 1 (A-A in the schematic above):

img_0012

Not very exciting, I know, but there you go. Even with the extra Legos, I didn’t have enough regular greens. All the middle pieces (not visible) are orange and black, and as you can see there are some blocks mixed in that we call “puke green.” (Charlie has picked up on this, calling them “poo gee”).

Phases 1 & 2 (A-A + B-B):img_0014 Phases two and three (B-B and C-C) are actually a little more complicated to build than it looks, but I’m not going to bother explaining why.

Phases 1, 2, & 3 (A-A + B-B + C-C):

img_0017

Then it’s just a matter of plunking on four blue bricks, and voila! Sears Tower.

Phases 1, 2, 3, & 4 (A-A + B-B + C-C + D-D):

img_0020

The colors in the final product are a little misleading in terms of design, because each of the nine squares is built as a single tube that goes all the way to the ground, but this at least highlights the various shapes that emerge out of the whole and makes clear why its shape is somewhat disorienting when looked at from the ground. The proportions of each stage (i.e., the “number of floors”) are also a little off because of block shortages and the fact that Duplo blocks are so large. But hey, Sears Tower.

It lasted three days before Charlie destroyed it.

15 comments so far

  1. chad on

    I looked and looked – even counted the nobs – but I haven’t figured out why section B-B and C-C are difficult. The problem I’m having is that it seems as if the reds are not uniform. Are all the top blocks 2 nobs by 4? That wouldn’t be possible, though, considering the design. But if they are not uniform, I can’t understand why the design would be difficult with varying size blocks. So relieve my pain by explaining why section B-B is hard – from this I can probably deduce C-C.

    Dang engineering degree…keeps me making posts like this one.

  2. jeffreimer on

    Caveat: what is “complicated” or “difficult” for me in the world of Legos is mere child’s play for anybody with a little common sense (let alone a degree in engineering).

    With that in mind, I wanted each phase to be a single interlocking whole that could stand on its own in one piece and be as solid as possible. I only had two-by-two and four-by-two pieces, so I just had to alternate the pattern on each level of four-by-twos and two-by-twos.

    In the case of B-B there is a row of nobs running through the center of the piece (when viewed from the top) that is six nobs long and two wide. So the first layer doesn’t stand on its own independently because I have to place a two-by-two piece flush against a four-by-two. So that leaves a loose two-by-two on each layer that I have to compensate for on the next layer by alternating the pattern. Again, not very complicated, but there you go.

    So on C-C I had to place a four-by-two piece and a two-by-two piece against each other to make a six-by-two piece, and then place two two-by-twos in the middle on either side to make the cross shape. To make it as structurally sound as possible, I had to rotate the direction the four-by-two pieces were facing on each layer so that the number of two-by-two pieces stacked on top of each other in each two-by-two vertical column was kept to a minimum.

    The engineering problems and solutions of an English major, ladies and gentlemen!

  3. chad on

    Very helpful. Thank you.

    But here’s the difference that comes with the English major explaining an engineering problem. All you had to say was (and I quote), “I only had two-by-two and four-by-two (red) pieces.” Instead, I get a mini-novel. You just had to make a story out of it.

  4. jeffreimer on

    Oh yeah. I guess that would have sufficed. I didn’t know that that was what was confusing you. Ha!

  5. chad on

    One more point of curiosity (for all other readers, if this bores you, Jeff will surely post a quote from a poet soon and be back on track)

    I noticed in the picture that the height of some red blocks is double that of other red blocks. For example, the base reds (first two layers) are “thicker” than the top reds. Is this irrelevant to your response? That is to say, are there both “thick” and “thin” 2 x 2 and 2 x 4?

    “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary…”
    (since we’re blending the disciplines)

  6. jeffreimer on

    Yes, it’s irrelevant. For some odd reason, the Lego set included four red 2x4s that are half as thick as the rest.

  7. mitchell on

    Nice! come to us for a real one! :) MItchell – The Model Workshop New Zealand

  8. Mike Doyle on

    This is the height of geek fabulous! Bravo!

  9. [...] (Photo credit: Jeff Reimer | Mode of Expression.) [...]

  10. alexa on

    r u kidding how long did this take u do u have a life

  11. alexa on

    get a life

  12. Tasha on

    How many duplos did you need to do this?

  13. jeffreimer on

    Most of the 4x2s from two boxes this size (I think):

    http://shop.lego.com/ByAge/Product.aspx?p=5416&cn=100002&d=100001

  14. Heli John on

    Very informative. I work in that building and fly over it doing helicopter tours and still didn’t get it fully until I saw your post. Thanks, and let me know if you want a free tour some time.

    • Not Telling You on

      i want a tour…


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